In view of the economic sluggishness witnessed due to COVID19 induced lockdown in Assam, there is a serious need to look at agriculture as the key to drive growth and generate employment. Though the state has been blessed with abundant natural resources to become one of the top agriculture states in the country, many hindrances have blocked its way from harnessing the full potential in the sector.
In such a perspective, some bright examples of progressive farming have come as a ray of hope which can inspire scores of the state’s youth to take agriculture as a means of livelihood. One of them is Pabhoi Greens, situated around 20 kms from Biswanath Chariali. Recently Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited Pabhoi Greens and after being impressed with the farming practices there, he stressed on the need to adopt the model for achieving self-reliance in agriculture.
Pabhoi Greens was set up by Neelam Dutta with a view to create integrated value chains in agriculture for sustainable employment and their vision is to safeguard indigenous seeds. To achieve this, they have started the first organic seed production and seed bank in Northeast India. Its primary goal is to replicate the best adaptable varieties in the region and also to provide all farmers with locally adapted seeds and to train communities in organic and integrated farming and seed breeding.
With a team of thirty people led by Dutta, Pabhoi Greens has showed the way in organic heirloom seed production in the entire NE India and is helping farmers to achieve, what they call “seed sovereignty” through knowledge sharing across different ethnic communities, applying sustainable agricultural practices in Assam through in-house techniques and external collaborations. Neelam Dutta has worked closely with Sativa Rheinau, an organic seed company in Switzerland and imbibed techniques learned through his visits to many leading organic and biodynamic seed companies in the world.
Apart from growing around 20 acres of rice during monsoon, vegetables like chillies, brassicas, leafy vegetables, beans and tubers, fruits such as papaya, guavas and lemons are cultivated organically in Pabhoi Greens, which they sell directly in local markets and to a farmers’ cooperative. Around half of their farmland is devoted to fish breeding apart from dairy farming, duckery and apiary. Pabhoi Greens also produces around 300 metric tonnes of pure organic vermicompost manure along with and cow urine and neem-based biopesticides.
Likewise, Kanyaka Multipurpose Farm is doing a commendable job by setting an example of a successful cooperative farming model. Bringing a ray of hope to many educated unemployed youths of the greater Jamuguri area, the Bharaliparia Kanyaka Bohumukhi Paam has turned nearly 2000 bighas of idle land into lush fields by taking up a multi-cropping project on the bank of Bharali River under Shilabandha Gaon Panchayat.
Under the leadership of Sootea MLA Padma Hazarika, some educated and industrious unemployed youths of the area came together to utilize a large area in the banks of Bharali River to grow fruits and vegetables such as banana, lemon, watermelon along with cabbage, potato, black gram, mustard seed, sesame, brinjal, peas, wheat, cauliflower, pumpkin, bottle guard and other leafy vegetables.
More than 300 people, engaged in the farm, have set a very successful example for the state’s youth to emulate in cooperative farming. The farm also lays importance on the vermicomposting project where farmers have imparted training on how to go about organic farming through sustainable methods.
Another such glowing example of the cooperative success story of Assam is the Sitajakhala Milk Cooperative Society which is one of the oldest and largest dairy cooperatives of the state located in the Marigaon district. The Society’s plant has the ability to process and market an average of 7,000 litres of milk daily out of the procured raw material. On an average, the Society procures 17,000 to 18,000 litres of milk daily from nearby dairy farmers for processing and marketing, which has helped the rural economy of the area tremendously.
Despite Assam being blessed with fertile lands, abundant water resources, and a conducive climate for agriculture, the state has lagged behind in achieving its true potential in agriculture and allied sectors. Lack of proper planning and systematic intervention in the field have afflicted agriculture for long in the state apart from factors like the dearth of a proper market system, dependence on traditional farming techniques, middlemen’s control over the market depriving the farmers, etc. Poor economic conditions and lesser societal dignity of farmers in the state have de-motivated the youth from taking up agriculture as a means of livelihood.
In such a perspective, it is heartwarming to observe the success of cooperative farming models like Kanyaka, Pabhoi and Sitajakhala in the state, which have empowered lots of youths and driven economic progress at the grassroots level. After the slowdown and stagnation in the economy induced by COVID-19, Assam can pick up the pace of economic resurgence by focusing on agriculture and allied sectors.
The fishery is one such sector that holds tremendous potential which is highlighted by the fact that the state produced 3.35 lakh metric tonne of fish in 2019-20 while the Govt owned FISHFED sold fish worth Rs 180 crore during the first two phases of lockdown, as per the Fishery Department records.
Capturing both farm and market by the local enterprising youths should be the sole priority so that middlemen’s control over the distribution system is broken while empowering the farmers to directly sell their products to the buyers. For that, the state government must think of appointing nodal agencies such as Transport Department and Agriculture Marketing Board to install a system of cargos, truck depots, and online time tracking for efficiently delivering agriculture goods.
Sikkim is a model in organic farming not only in NE but in the entire country and Assam must aggressively pursue the objective of large scale organic farming in the state. An organic hub can be set up in a district which can serve a cluster of other districts nearby and for example, Biswanath can be made an organic hub that can deliver organic products to the entire north bank districts and so forth. Since Sitajakhala already has a lot of dairy farmers, organic farming can be encouraged in the surrounding areas as cow manure would be available here.
Innovative thinking is the need of the hour as against traditional straitjacket concepts to bring development in the true sense and in the same vein, Sonapur in the outskirts of Guwahati, which has a sizeable tribal population that traditionally rears pigs, can be made a piggery hub for catering to the increasing needs of pork in the city and surrounding districts. As of now, states like Haryana and Punjab are supplying pork to Assam, despite being a traditional pig rearing state, as production is inadequate to meet its own requirement. Serious introspection is needed in this regard.
Perhaps the time has come when an MP, MLA, or any public representative’s performance is measured by his ability to facilitate a cooperative agricultural farm as shown by Sootea MLA Padma Hazarika. In fact, a model village and a cooperative agricultural society must be strictly mandated to be built by each of 14 Loksabha MPs and 126 MLAs of Assam in their respective constituencies. An expert committee can be set up with Padma Hazarika, Neelam Dutta and other such progressive farmers to handhold and monitor the cooperative agri-revolution in the state with sufficient backing from the government machinery.
Swakkhyar Deka is serving as a Liaison Officer in the Information & Public Relations Dept. Govt of Assam
The views expressed by the writer are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.